May 16, 2010
“I'm not dead,” he observed, accurately, “but I should be.”
Dazed, he crawled several feet from the wreckage where, still unsure of the state of his own body, he collapsed onto the hot sand and blinked upward, astonished, into the blue-white brilliance of the sky.
In the moment before the impact, while the earth did a dizzying pirouette around him, his pulse raced in panic and his breath came rapid and short, there was little to do other than make a quick peace with his onrushing demise and hope it would be brief; a sudden collision with sufficient velocity to exceed the body's tensile resistance and then lights out. He had certainly not wanted to lie, flopping about pathetically, crippled and helpless, with shattered bones extruding from shredded and deformed limbs and intestines, ruptured and stinking, spilling from an exploded belly.
That, however, had not been the case and, lying on the sand with its radiant heat filtering from under his body and the sun's heat warming from above, his breathing and heart rate gradually returned to normal. He, first, flexed his hands and wrists, his eyes closed, expecting, without warning, that nervous discharge that would signal not only pain but, worse, serious injury. It did not come. He slowly raised his arms, listening for the tell-tale grind of bone against bone that is felt, even though the body, not understanding how to interpret vibrational input perceived from within, tells the brain that it is 'hearing' the gruesome sound. He bent his elbows and found them to be intact. Next, he flexed his shoulders and, without hesitation, the developed shoulder and back muscles showed their strength, rippling with toned practice against the soft, warm substrate beneath him. He tested his legs in a similar fashion and found that, despite a familiar and, almost welcomed, dull, arthritic ache in his knees, everything was functioning regularly.
Lastly, still feeling unsure of himself, he began the exploration that he most feared. He cleaned his hands perfunctorily against the fabric of his jacket, then, timorous for the result, sent his fingertips to explore his own head and thorax. He found his hair, short and professionally cut, to be mussed but salvageable and, certainly, there were no worrisome, oozing gouges or conspicuous holes palpable upon the scalp. His face, he discovered without the aid of a reflecting device, to be as he was accustomed, but for an apparent graze on the right cheek which, despite the sting on touch, seemed already to be crusting over although wanting of disinfection. His hands wandered, poking and prodding, over his chest and gut until, lastly, he checked that his privates were as they had always been. He was relieved to find it was so and, slowly, he rose to sitting. There was an explosion of stars before his eyes with the shift in position, but he was not alarmed by it – it was due to the body's shock response – lowered blood pressure from flaccid capillaries, he was aware, could kill. He needed, in spite of the heaviness that invaded him, to push his body into action.
“I made it,” he said out loud and his sight focused on the alarming wreckage only feet away.
The Ultralight plane, in which he had made his escape, was a dismal, crumpled mass of aluminum frame; the long wings broken and their sheathing torn to shreds. He stood and, choosing his steps carefully, breathing deeply and slowly to maintain consciousness, he approached the wreckage to determine the state of the cargo.
The large, sport-style, canvas duffel bag was intact, bulging with its contents, and still firmly fixed with stout, interlaced and knotted, bungee chords to the frame, just behind the single pilot's seat. Beginning to feel his strength returning, he started to unhook the chords and worry at the knots until, after longer than it had taken to tie in place, he pulled at the handles and the bag slithered from the deformed, metallic frame. It fell with a soft, dull thump onto the sand. The idea, at first just a glimmer of possibility, initiated in his mind.
“I'm not dead,” he said, out loud, without fear of being overheard, “but I could be.”
The situation, as it had been, flooded back over him with a welcomed rush of adrenaline that sent fresh, invigorating, blood through his body. The hit on the cashier's station at Caesar's had been planned with minute and split second timing to erupt only seconds after the Brinks delivery van arrived. The Brinks guards were summarily dispatched by the silenced weapons of Donnie and Pinky – unfortunate, necessary but collateral damage in view of the success of the operation. After the cashier was immobilised, along with the attending casino security, by vast strips of duct tape, Brit took over at the desk with a 9mm Mauser in her lap. At that point, he, Ray, and Jerry, had only 45 seconds on the clock to move the bodies to the vault and fill the duffel bags with the bundles of 100's waiting there on the table. Pulses and tempers had been at tilt levels despite the training that they had undertaken for the previous six months for they knew, implicitly, it only required a random security scan or phone call to know that all was not as it appeared.
They finished at 44 seconds. What Donnie, Pinky, Jerry, Brit and, waiting outside, Fay and Eddie, did not know was that Ray had entirely his own plan. Once it was actioned, he knew he was a dead man. They shouldered the duffel bags and moved as a tight group through the thronging casino, amazed that no alarms had yet been tripped, the doors locked and a sea of Kevlar-vested, security flooded the area. As they neared the exit, Ray veered off to the left, toward the elevators.
He arrived at the roof and used a counterfeit security pass to exit. There, concealed under a grey, canvas sheet, the Ultralight was already assembled. After tying the duffel bag to the frame, he actioned the motor and tipped the craft off the edge of the roof. It fell ten stories while he carefully manipulated the stick, before catching an updraft and sailed, virtually unnoticed, from the rear of the hotel, toward the desert in the west. As experienced a pilot as he was, he had not been prepared for the desert winds and the escape had not gone entirely as planned in terms of distance.
“Still,” he reasoned, while pulling the straps of the duffel bag onto his shoulders, “anything is better than really dead.”
He checked the magazine on the .45 retrieved from his jacket and then fired two bursts into the tank of the small plane. It exploded immediately and threw him off balance. He landed hard on the sand, engulfed in the heat wave from the fire that quickly enveloped the wreckage, sending a thick, black plume skyward.
“I hear the Azores are nice this time of year,” he said, beginning to smile. He began to walk toward the desert highway.
“I know that someone will pick me up,” he said, cocking the gun and flicking on the safety. He stowed it in the waist of his trousers.
“...whether they want to or not.”